Wii Fit, The Balance Board and Its Role in Physical Therapy

There is no doubt that the Wii Fit has becoming something of a gaming phenomenon. In fact it has become completely synonymous with the Wii console itself, a kind of flagship title which rivals Microsoft and Sony can only gaze upon in envy.

Its success is due to the fact that its appeal is wide, it appeals to both the old and young and most importantly it reaches people who are not traditional gamers. In fact it’s probably fair to say that Wii Fit fans will never have played on a home gaming console before.

This across the board appeal has been well documented elsewhere, yet one area which is still in its infancy is the idea of Wii Fit being used as a serious tool in the medical sphere.
The game is starting to find fans in hospitals, old people’s homes and physiotherapy units across the world and both patients and staff alike are starting to see the benefits.

22 year old Nathan Ellis from Lancashire, England suffered horrific injuries to his limbs when he was unfortunately hit by a car. Thankfully he survived, and as a 12 month stretch of physiotherapy loomed Nathan suggested that using Wii Fit as opposed to traditional methods of physiotherapy may provide the necessary fun factor which would help him get through the long and occasionally painful treatment sessions.

The idea was a deemed a great success and resulted in both the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospitals in the North West of England introducing Wii Fit as a legitimate tool to assist their younger patients requiring physiotherapy.

Lesley Walters, the head of physiotherapy at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, recognised that by adopting play or diversion techniques you can assist children to overcome discomfort and stiffness whilst undergoing physical therapy.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the elderly have also discovered Wii Fit provides a great activity with some residents deciding that knitting and bridge are out and Wii Fit and the Balance Board are in.
Some staff members at the WilMed Nursing Home in Milwaukee USA had the game at home, and decided that some of their residents may enjoy it. They were right.

It proved to be a big hit with residents even up to the age of 84, with resident Everlyn Dawson getting out of her wheelchair to try her hand at bowling. Although she initially got a nothing more than a ‘gutter ball’ she smiled and with determination said “I hope I am getting better at bowling, it’s certainly a lot of fun. It’s nice and I look forward to doing it.’

And it’s not just the gaming scores which are seeing improvement, Susan Swain, the in house physical therapy assistant, feels that an improvement in hand eye co-ordination is noticeable too, and most importantly, there are a lot more smiles too.

So far we have looked at two examples of how the Wii Fit can be of use in two separate environments which are at opposite ends of the age spectrum. Finally it is worth adding that Wii Fit is also being adopted as a method of physio therapy for athletes in recovery from a variety of sports related injuries.

Sue Stanley-Green, a professor of athletic training at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, told Reuters Health, ‘We are looking to incorporate Wii Fit into the athletic training room as far as rehabilitation, for example, on post-operative knees and ankles.’ It is the fun aspect of Wii Fit which makes the game so attractive for this purpose, with many people finding it takes the repetition and monotony away from such exercises

These three areas have all utilised Nintendo’s Wii Fit either as a means to provide fun and entertainment for the elderly, a method of distraction for youngsters undergoing sometimes painful physiotherapy , or athletes who find repetitive exercises easier to swallow when then they are coated in the fun guise of the Wii Fit.

Whatever you think of the Wii Fit, it’s surely going to be a long time before another game will have both the same level of appeal and functionality.